Pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine on Friday ordered the evacuation of civilians to Russia, accusing Ukraine of planning a major military offensive against the two self-proclaimed republics.
The unsettled east of the country has witnessed the worst shelling in years over the past two days.
Each side accuses the other of heavy shelling of civilian areas. There were 60 ceasefire violations as of Thursday, many by heavy weapons, according to Ukrainian authorities.
The Ukrainian government denies planning an offensive in the east and accuses the separatists of a “disinformation campaign”.
Authorities in the breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk said they were organizing the evacuations. Leonid Pasechnik, the senior official in the pro-Russian breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic, urged the men to take up arms.
“The Russian Federation is ready to provide organized reception and accommodation on its territory to the residents of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Pasechnik said. “Once again I appeal to all men who can hold arms to defend their country.”
Ukrainians accuse separatists of carrying out an attack in a breakaway town
On Friday, a vehicle explosion in Donetsk was dismissed by Ukrainian and US officials as a staged attack aimed at stoking tensions in eastern Ukraine. The video showed a fire in a parking lot and a heavily damaged military vehicle near the headquarters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Images and video showed emergency services at the scene and a heavily damaged vehicle, which CNN identified as a Russian-made Jeep. There is no way to verify what caused the damage to the vehicle or the fire.
We think this is a staging and a provocation,” Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, told CNN on WhatsApp.
A US State Department spokesman described it as a “false flag operation” and said incidents such as the vehicle explosion and calls for evacuation by separatist leaders over alleged Ukrainian aggression constituted “further attempts to use lies and disinformation to cover up that Russia was the aggressor in Iraq.” in this case there is conflict.”
US President Joe Biden said there had been a surge in Russian disinformation that could be used as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. Biden said at the White House on Friday that he was “convinced” that Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine, but added that “diplomacy is always a possibility.”
Both the Ukrainian government and Western officials have warned of the possibility of provocative action by Russia and the separatist leadership to provide a pretext for a Russian offensive into Ukraine.
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